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If I had told you that Ricky Benton Racing Enterprises would the Truck Series standings this year, you would have laughed in my face. But that’s exactly what has happened this year. Parker Kligerman has taken the part-time team and put it atop the points standings with finishes of third and eighth at Daytona and Atlanta, respectively.
— Parker Kligerman (@pkligerman) March 1, 2016
With just three full-time employees at the shop – Mike Hester (crew chief), Bobby Gill (car chief) and Mikey Hammond (tires) – the small organization has had a plethora of drivers behind the wheel for a handful of races each season since 2010, often choosing the start-and-park route. Prior to the 2016 season, the No. 92 truck had just six top 10s, and Kligerman has managed to post back-to-back top 10s.
There’s no doubt that Kligerman is a talented driver that never truly got his chance to shine in the Truck Series, save for an impressive victory at Talladega Superspeedway, and if he can continue to race each week this season, it’s possible that the usual backmarker team could work its way into this year’s Chase.
In his rookie season, along with the races leading up to it, some fans had dubbed Spencer Gallagher as “Spinner” Gallagher since it seemed like he was always spinning. Much like John Wes Townley has already done, the sophomore driver spent the latter part of the 2015 season growing and making the case to drop that not-so-flattering nickname.
Though Gallagher only showed flashes of greatness last season, just two races in, he’s shown that the experience behind the wheel has helped him develop. In fact, if not for a little sour luck at Daytona and some incidental contact at Atlanta, Gallagher could easily have a pair of top 5s rather than finishes of 21st and 10th.
“Man, what a race,” Gallagher said after his 10th-place finish at Atlanta. “It’s unfortunate that we suffered damage late in the race, because we felt like we were definitely a contender to win. I feel this is a big momentum boost for the entire GMS Racing organization and we’ll come back out in Martinsville and try to get a victory.”
The truth is that GMS Racing as a whole has shown speed that I didn’t expect so early on, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising to see Gallagher’s improvements. And while two races does not guarantee success for the remainder of the season, the driver of the No. 23 Chevrolet has started off on the right foot and could even make a case for Victory Lane with a little luck to go along with the speed he’s had this year.
This driver is standing out in all the wrong ways two races into the year. After a trio of top-10 finishes, including a win at Eldora Speedway, in his seven starts last season, Christopher Bell joined Kyle Busch Motorsports full-time, taking over the No. 4 Toyota that Erik Jones took all the way to the championship table last year. With high expectations set for the rookie, many expected him to shine in the season opener, but a pair of races that ended in wrecked equipment have left Bell with a disappointing average finish of 21st, a result that is far from indicative of actual performance.
Bell tumbled in the No. 4 Toyota in a green-white-checkered finish gone wrong at Daytona. After complaining of dizziness and a headache, he was transported to a local hospital for a concussion evaluation but was released later that evening. Though he was sore the following day, Bell has suffered no lasting effects from that accident.
The following week in Atlanta, Bell led 42 laps before triggering a late-race crash between Matt Crafton and Daniel Suarez before his second blown tire of the race sent him hard into the outside wall and out of the race.
Despite the high expectations and his performance thus far, Bell has not had the results that he should have had for the way he ran during the first two races of the year. And as long as he can shake the monkey off of his back soon, there’s nothing to worry about for the No. 4 team.